By Tom Edwards
There is another ice skating show on television. Hardly a day or week passes without a skating contest or exhibition. I enjoy watching the skaters – my favorite is Scott Hamilton because he puts on a great crowd-pleasing performance.
In another time and place, I could have been a Scott Hamilton. Oh sure, the physical resemblance may not be that close; however, if I had the advantages and training, the situation might be different. Looking back, there were a number of factors that prevented me from making the big time skate scene.
First, is the skating rink. We did not have the huge indoor skate rinks of today. We had a small frozen pond at the farm, but if Dad would have flooded and frozen the back 40 acres, it would have forever changed my life. I could have practiced on a large rink instead of a frozen marsh pond. Not to mention the fact that, at age 12, we moved from the farm to Watertown, WI where there was a large outdoor skating area on the Rock River. Since figure skaters begin training and practice at age 5, I missed seven years on the road to skating stardom.
The ice on the professional rink is crystal clear with no ripples or bumps, with white poster boards surrounding the sides, thousands of spectators and hundreds of spotlights to showcase the performers. Our Riverside Park ice had snow piles, bumps, gouges, ripples, numerous logs, trees, branches, weeds and bushes. The professionals never clear snow off the ice, and there is not a single tree in their ice. Our onlookers were other skaters, loose dogs and an occasional stray cow. The lighting was a string of low wattage light bulbs. Instead of one or two solo or pairs performers on the ice at one time, we had scores of kids of all ages, sizes and skill levels.
When the professionals complete a number, they skate to the side where a door opens and they tiptoe off the ice to a warm cozy room. At Riverside, we walked on our skates up a slippery embankment to a small shed that was sometimes heated. The professionals wear a skate shoe with the skate blade bolted right to the shoe so that the blade is locked ffrmly in place. Unfortunately, with this set-up, the shoe or boot cannot be used for anything else. Our clamp-on blades enabled us to use the Oxfords or boots for other activities, such as walking to school, Sunday services and cleaning the barn. The clamp-ons were usually loose and never seemed to point straight. If I could have convinced Dad that the professional skate boot could be used for working around the farm, my career would have taken off. Eventually we got the standard hockey shoe skate.
The pros wear beautiful designer costumes; some rather scanty. I don't know how Scott would perform with the layers of clothing we had to wear. I'll bet he couldn't do triple loops in bib overalls and mucking boots. We wore long underwear, wool shirts and sweaters, overalls and an overall jacket, two pairs of socks, work shoes, an aviator cap with ear covers, ear muffs, mom's old long knitted scarf and leather covered mittens. I'm surprised we were able to move. The pros never seem to have colds, sniffles or coughs. We had them all, and when wearing those mittens, the buttonless coat sleeve was a convenient handkerchief.
We marvel at the jumps, spins and twirls of the professionals; the triple Lutz, the triple-toe loop and the double and triple axel. We did jumps and spins they never heard of. There was the forward splat fall, the flying seater slide, the reverse backside fall and the loose skate wobble spin. It took me a long time just to learn to stop on the ice, and two years to skate backwards. I remember Jumbo Lemke once tried skating backwards to impress the girls and struck a log on the ice. He did an open-arm inverted toe loop, then a layback spin, which was the talk of the firehouse for many years.
The professionals have coaches, teachers, choreographers and managers. Many have ballet teachers to develop their graceful dance steps. I know ballet training would have been a big help, but again, the ballet shoes couldn't be used for much of anything else.
So, if Dad would have flooded the back 40, if the ice was clear and smooth, if I had the neat skin-tight costumes, if the skate blades were actually fastened to the shoes, if I had the teachers and coaches and if I just had the athletic ability and prowess for leaps and jumps, who knows what might have happened. Maybe some guy named Scott Hamilton and some girl named Michelle Kwan might be sitting home watching me perform at ice shows. On the other hand, the per acre yield on our 40 acres of corn was the highest in the county.